By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple things that you can do every single day to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing, based on quality research.
This is Episode 72 and this week I’m talking about truth. In this episode I’ll cover what truth is (and what it isn’t), why real truth matters, and how to incorporate genuine truth into everything you do for the sake of your wellbeing. So, let’s talk about mental health!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the article/transcript version.
Watch Episode 10 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV — in this latest episode where I’m sharing simple ideas to find greater happiness by not trying to find greater happiness (and I promise that I try to do that without making your head explode!). Watch it here or visit the channel on YouTube:
This podcast episode was originally released on 28 March, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 72, and thanks so much for joining me! 2021 is The Year of Wellbeing here on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast, and each week I’ll be exploring lots of different things you can do every day to make a positive difference in your own life.
This week is all about truth. I often say that in any situation there are three versions of the truth: yours, mine, and the actual truth. And the reason I say that is because so much of this idea of ‘truth’ is really tied up in our perceptions of the world and how we perceive ourselves, as well as how we judge ourselves based on our intentions versus our behaviours. So this week I’m going to dig into the topic of truth and how it relates to your mental health and wellbeing, as well as your relationships with other people.
Before I get into that, Episode 10 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV is out now on YouTube where I’m sharing simple ideas to find greater happiness by not trying to find greater happiness (and I promise that I try to do that without making your head explode!). The content I post on YouTube is completely different to the episode you hear on the podcast, so if you’d like some more Let’s Talk About Mental Health goodness each week then head to YouTube or watch it now at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/YouTube — and while you’re there, if you like what you see then please subscribe to the channel.
So, now, on with this week’s episode about truth…
We live in a world where the idea of ‘truth’ has been, at times, weaponised and politicised beyond all recognition; a world where the notion of ‘alternative facts’ has entered the mainstream language and where the line between ‘truth’ and ‘lies’ can very often seem blurry and even non-existent.
I’m not here to deal with the political side of this argument because I aim to avoid politics as much as possible on this little show, however I do spend a lot of time commenting on society (and I studied sociology along with psychology because I’m fascinated by how the whole society thing works and how it impacts on us individually); and I do so because the world around us has a direct effect on our internal world, just as the world inside us (our thoughts and feelings) directly shapes the world around us. So this week I want to explore the notion of truth a bit and consider its effects internally and externally… that might sound a bit philosophical (and frankly it kinda is) but it’s a fairly fundamental aspect of the way we experience life so it’s worth exploring (even if that potentially means we’re going to get into some tough and challenging discussions this week).
So let’s begin with…
What is truth?
And this is a question as old as time itself, one that has puzzled philosophers dating back to the times of Ancient Greece (and very likely even earlier than that, but I have no idea what cave people thought about truth!).
Look up the definition of ‘truth’ and the dictionary defines it as ‘the quality or state of being true’ which is about as helpful as saying that the sky is the sky because it’s in the sky. But I mention that at the beginning because I think that makes an interesting point right at the very beginning of this discussion; when we define words using the word itself, it’s usually because it’s a concept that is considered innate (in other words something that we all instinctively understand). In researching this I read a paper from the Stanford Encyclopedia [sic] of Philosophy which opened with this ominous sentence, “It would be impossible to survey all there is to say about truth in any coherent way” (source: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth/) which should probably begin to paint a picture of the fun I had trying to nail down the truth of truth for this particular episode — but I’m going to give it a go anyway!
Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find ‘truth’ described as something being in accordance with fact or reality, which then begs the questions: whose fact? Whose reality? How do you actually define ‘truth’? I know this is all quite philosophical and I’m trying not to make your explode, but we need to talk about this upfront because the main thing to consider here is that we tend to look at the idea of truth as being very black-or-white when, in fact, in many cases it is actually far more of a grey area than we would probably like to admit. Obviously lies are lies and bullshit is bullshit, but when we dig into the idea of ‘truth’ a bit deeper we need to acknowledge a very confronting reality: truth is based on individual perception.
What I mean by that is that the way I perceive something as being true might be different to how you do, based on your values and beliefs. What I believe underpins my approach to life, just as what you believe underpins your approach to life… and often it’s so deeply ingrained that we might not even realise what it even is that we believe and why.
My point is that since there are nearly 8 billion of us on this little rock hurtling through space, that means that there are potentially nearly 8 billion versions of the truth going on at any given time. Which is a bit of a pain in the backside for trying to get anything done.
So does that mean that there is no such thing as genuine truth? No. There are two main types of truth: subjective and absolute. Things that are influenced by your opinion or beliefs are subjective, whereas there are fundamentals that are absolute: the sky is blue, night is dark, day follows night, politicians lie… you know, absolute truths. Absolute truth is not open to interpretation — if I say the sky is blue and someone else says it is magenta, one of us is either wrong or has eaten special mushrooms. And things aren’t automatically ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ just because lots of people believe it: for over 200 years, Europeans were convinced the tomato was poisonous. Do you know how that started? Wealthy people had been eating them from pewter plates which were high in lead, which was absorbed by the tomato and then, once eaten, resulted in lead poisoning (there’s a great article in the Smithsonian Magazine about that story, and I’ll link it in the transcript if you’re interested — find it here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-the-tomato-was-feared-in-europe-for-more-than-200-years-863735/).
‘Truth’ is not truth just because you believe it; it either is true or it isn’t. Unfortunately, you can believe something is true even though it’s not and then it ends up doing you harm; for decades people genuinely thought smoking was good for them and… well, you know how that turned out. Knowing the difference between opinions and beliefs versus real truth takes work and it takes conscious awareness, and it’s not just about what other people say and do, but also about being honest with yourself about what is true and what is more subjective in terms of your own thoughts and beliefs.
Why does real truth matter?
It matters because it’s about being objective, and this is something I talk about a lot in my work. Let’s start with you: if you want to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing, you need to start from a place of absolute truth so that you’re dealing with things as they are and not as you wish they were. That’s the reason why I so often tell you to dig deep on things that you might be experiencing and understand why they might be happening, in order to understand the truth that sits beneath any given situation. When you know the truth you can do something about it; otherwise, you’re just flailing about in the dark and hoping you’ll hit something.
It’s also about the positive effect being truthful can have on you and on your relationships; according to an article published by the American Psychological Association (APA), “Telling the truth when tempted to lie can significantly improve a person’s mental and physical health, according to a… study” (source: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/08/lying-less).
Even our so-called little white lies can impact on us, such as when we say something someone else wants to hear rather than the truth or we make false excuses for being later or missing a deadline, or when we exaggerate. These types of lies, and bigger lies, have a negative impact on our mental and physical health (as mentioned in the APA article I cited earlier), so there is an opportunity here to really think about how focusing on the truth (even when it might seem painful) can improve your wellbeing.
And then the other bit we need to consider here is about our interactions with the wider world. I’m sure you can think of examples of where other people have lied to you or even just certain individuals or groups of people who have beliefs that are bordering on delusional (or have completely crossed over into delusion-land). Think about when people have been deceitful to you, whether on purpose or not, and consider what the impact was on you. The point here is that when you stop and think about the times you’ve been on the receiving end of lies and deception, I’m sure you can understand why I might be encouraging you to think long and hard about focusing more on the truth in everything that you say and do (which is kind-of the whole point of this episode). When you are truthful, you take out all of the pain and hurt and complications that can be created by lies. You cannot control how other people behave, but you can absolutely control what you do and say (which means that you are then responsible for your words and actions).
The bit here to understand is that we usually judge ourselves based on our intentions — for example, knowing that we mean well or are trying to protect someone by telling a falsehood — whereas we judge others by the behaviour that we see (i.e. Their words and actions) since we can never know what their true intentions are. The same goes for how people judge you: all they can see are your behaviours, so you might think you’re being lovely and kind and coming from a place of positive intentions… whereas the rest of the world might not see that because they don’t know your intentions (and they can never really know them, no matter how much you might try to make them understand where you’re coming from). There’s a way to reduce the risk of being misunderstood (in addition to being truthful, which may or may not come back and bite you in the arse later) — but more on that in a moment.
A final bit I want to say in this ‘why’ section is that I do understand that sometimes we need to consider the bigger picture when considering how truthful we are. For example, parents might tell their kids small lies in order to protect them (such as keeping them from running onto the road or from bouncing around in the car) and I’m not saying it’s right but I’m also not saying it’s wrong, especially when we’re talking about younger kids who haven’t reached a stage of cognitive development that would allow them to understand the consequences of their actions. I think the main thing here is to be mindful and to be completely honest with yourself about your intentions — are you protecting someone or are you controlling them? For example, I’ve said in other episodes about lying to my mother who is in an aged care home; she thinks it’s a hospital and that she’s going home soon, and none of us in the family are doing anything to correct her because she likes to make a scene and I can tell you that she would hit the roof. Having said that, let’s be clear — we didn’t put her in there and pretend to her that she was going to a hospital or a holiday resort; she was assessed by multiple doctors and she had hearings with the state trustee board who are the ones that made the decision, as we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Somehow, thankfully, she didn’t remember that (I mean, she has dementia but she writes things down in her diary to remind herself so we’re lucky) and so that means she’s no longer retaining most of her short-term memories so if she believes she’s in hospital then it actually is kinder to let her believe that rather than getting her agitated by reminding her she isn’t going anywhere. Judge me how you will but I have been through all the guilt and shame over that, and I’ve come out the end with a pretty clear understanding of why this version of the truth needs to be the one we go with, for everybody’s sake. There was a paper I read by Mental Health UK about this very issue with dementia patients that kind of helped me rationalise it a bit, where it stated, “one should always start from a point as close to whole- truth-telling as possible – always underpinned by respect and kindness towards the person with dementia – and if this is causing unnecessary distress, move on to a response that might include an untruth… judging what is ‘unnecessary distress’ is no easy task. It will depend on the person and their history… and the exact circumstances of the situation.” (source: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/dementia-truth-inquiry-report.pdf).
For me that kind of sums up the whole truth thing — we should always start from a point of telling the genuine truth as much as possible. So how do you incorporate genuine truth into everything you do for the sake of your wellbeing? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode…
How to incorporate genuine truth into everything you do
As I said just a moment ago, start from a point of telling the truth (to others and to yourself). The opposite of truth is falsehood, and when we believe things (or try to convince others to believe things) that are blatantly false, we’re heading into delusion territory. You may not like the truth, and neither might other people, but it is a far more objective place to operate from. I know we’re often conditioned to present a so-called ‘perfect’ facade to the world (I mean, Instagram built an entire platform around it) but there is no shame in admitting when things aren’t great or perfect — that’s why I talk about it openly on this podcast. That’s pretty much the whole point of this week’s episode: we should be acknowledging the good, the bad and the ugly of mental health and wellbeing so that we can be as truthful as possible, since truth is the foundation of finding solutions that will actually work to improve your situation.
Remember that you can never fully know what another person’s subjective experience is — this kind of truth is based on feelings, which means that you can never and will never have any actual idea what other people feel and how they feel it, because there is no way to experience what someone else experiences (e.g. I don’t like bananas but nobody can ever know what they taste like to me). Why does that matter? Because when you remind yourself of that, you begin to be a lot more objective about the things other people say and do. Most people are going about their business focused on themselves and their own wants and needs, and you can either get hung up on what they do or don’t do, or you can remind yourself that you can really only focus on what you do or don’t do. Life is a real pain in the backside like that and it means that it’s almost no wonder why we’re all going around butting heads and getting cranky about someone having different beliefs than us. Stop worrying about other people and focus on being the best version of yourself possible. You do that by…
Choosing to be authentic in all things — know who you are completely and live that in everything that you do, say and feel. I find that when we try to resist the most fundamental truths of who we really are, we often wind up dealing with issues like anxiety and depression because we are resisting the truth (let’s be clear that it’s not the only cause of those conditions, but it can be a factor for many people). Think of it this way: if you hate your job but you’re focused on all the external reasons why you hate it, you’re not being completely true to yourself in terms of acknowledging that hatred comes from within… so even if you deal with all those things you hate, it’s more than likely you’ll discover new things to hate. It’s just like having dreams and ambitions, but then going in the complete opposite direction for your career — maybe you’ll be happy, but just maybe you’ll wind up unhappy with yourself because you’re ignoring your truth and your true nature.
Choose to do no harm, be kind and give more than you take — these are the foundations of mental health and of truth, because it’s about how you treat others and how you treat yourself. I talk about these three every episode and it’s a reminder that at the core of each of us and our experiences are the choices we make when dealing with others and in terms of how we treat ourselves. Avoiding the truth may seem like a safer option, but in most cases it can be damaging in ways that you cannot possibly foresee, so the kinder and less harmful option is to approach all things from a place of truth.
Know that avoiding confrontation is not doing you any favours in the long run — most people don’t really like confrontation because it’s messy and we have no idea how the other person is going to take it… but if you avoid it, you make things more difficult and often issues can grow into much larger problems. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid; do it slowly and cause yourself more pain, or do it quickly and get the painful bit over and done with so you can get on with your life.
If you need to let it out, let it out — truth bottled up inside us can lead to fear; sometimes, you just need to let it out. Bottling things up leads to lies, secrets, denial and sometimes even delusion. I’m not a particular fan of secrets and I’m not saying you need to share everything with everyone (because, imagine what a mess that would lead to!) but let out what you need to let out; talk to a trusted friend or family member, or talk to a therapist if you need professional and objective support.
And then, in general, seek out quality news and information — this might sound a bit out-of-whack with all the other tips I’ve given because it’s about the broader world, but we can’t talk about ‘truth’ without at least acknowledging the bucketloads of bullshit that pass for news these days. Sure, everyone can have their opinion but opinions are not facts and we need to stop being so overly argumentative about who has the ‘truthiest’ version of the truth or trying to say something isn’t true just because we don’t believe it or we don’t like it. Just because you don’t like something, that doesn’t mean it’s not true! If you’d like some tips for identifying quality facts, check this article out: https://theconversation.com/6-tips-to-help-you-detect-fake-science-news-153708 (it’s particularly good for how to identify fake scientific news; this is something I’m really mindful of with the research used in this podcast — I actually check all of it to make sure that it has been vetted and that it’s from a reliable source).
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to truth and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When we deny the truth to ourselves, or we tell other people things that clearly aren’t true, we are causing harm. Yes it can be argued that some truths create problems that can lead to harm, and so we do need to consider the bigger picture when deciding what to reveal or not reveal, but I think the most fundamental piece to consider here is this: if the vast majority of issues in the world are created by deception or by insisting that one person’s version of ‘truth’ is better than another, then surely it must stand to reason that focusing on objective truth is better in the long run than allowing lies and deceit to run rampant in our society. On an individual level, when you’re more truthful with yourself and with others there is a direct positive effect on your mental and physical health. In the words of Jewish scholar Samuel Ha-Nagid, “the truth hurts like a thorn at first; but in the end it blossoms like a rose.”
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the American writer Henry David Thoreau, and it is:
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”Henry David Thoreau
Next week I’ll be talking about anger. Somebody once said to me that frustration is just anger in disguise, and when I was writing this episode I had one of those frustrating days where absolutely nothing went to plan and I was fighting the ongoing urge to explode… which made me stop and reflect on the whole frustration vs anger piece and I thought it would be an interesting topic to look at, because anger (and frustration, and all of its other forms) can have a negative effect on each of us individually as well as our relationships with other people, so next week I’m going to explore anger and how it relates to your mental health and wellbeing. I’ll be talking about what anger is, why dealing with anger effectively matters, and how to manage anger for the sake of your wellbeing.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday 4th April. And join me for Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube, with new episodes released every Wednesday.
Head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for links and past episodes (including audio links and full transcripts) and while you’re there join the Let’s Talk About Mental Health mailing list to have exclusive updates land in your inbox — those of you on my email list receive the full transcript for each episode every week and I also just started a short weekly newsletter where I share 3-4 things that have inspired me or which I found interesting related to mental health and wellbeing, so if you like this show then sign up now at the website: letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.
You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth, where I post extra content throughout the week, and if you follow me on Instagram then you’ll notice that I make a point of interacting with as many people as possible there so it’s a great way to continue the conversation!
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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